Tuesday, 7 February 2012


Or: a list of every female character I've related to or wanted to be soul sisters with.

Much has been written about the general demise of society and humanity due to television. According to many articles and textbooks and studies, it is dangerous and soul-sucking and - worst of all - terribly uncultured. If you watch television, you are a couch potato, a mindless drone, a slave to the machine, completely unaware of society and your place in it, happy to be just another cog in the wheel. As well as reinforcing classist ideas and contributing to the school of thought that only that which is educational, and high brow, and ultimately middle class and white, is of cultural significance and worth attaining, this belief that television is destroying our youth and society itself also ignores the main draw of television - how universal it is. T.S. Eliot once said that "Television is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome", but to me this isn't what television is for. One of the main arguments against television is that it turns us passive, and does not allow us the opportunity to connect with other people. I think that this line of thinking is a mistake - television does not exist necessarily to bring us together, or to allow us to relate to one another, or to help us to further understand the (quote) human race. Instead, it holds up a mirror to each individual, and we find parts of ourselves in the characters of the shows we watch, parts we accept and parts we attempt to hide from ourselves and others. Television allows us to examine the dark underbelly of our personal identities. To some, this might seem like a disaster - to me, it's a small victory.

This examination of identity is especially important in regards to being underprivileged, or a minority. Television is one of the ways in which we can see how others view us ('us', in this case, being women) and the dangerous ways in which this is presented - it is one of the ways in which we can recognise what is right and what is wrong, and what makes us feel ashamed or othered. It is also a way for us to feel a sense of solidarity or support when we find a character we relate to - because women aren't are a general Thing, and a specific female character isn't something that either all women or no women will relate to. She'll have haters, basically, because all women are different and we're gonna want different things in a television character. And that's fine! And that's why it's so important that television speaks to us individually, that it allows us the opportunity and time to relate to characters on our own terms. Television can be a way for the patriachy to once again reinforce female stereotypes, and use women as pawns or 2D characters that exist only in relation to men - but it is also a wonderful antidote to that. Here is a list of my favourite females from the big bad ol' television (and film), girls that I relate to and make me understand that the best and worst parts of me can coexist peacefully (kinda, anyway - I don't think my love of Law and Order SVU coexists too peacefully with working 9-5 and therefore wanting to be able to sleep at night).

Lindsay Weir, Freaks and Geeks
Oh, Lindsay. You're a secret math geek and all you want is to be accepted by the local stoners and occasionally kiss Daniel Desario on the mouth (and who can blame you, really?). When I first started watching your show, I coveted your army jacket and your perfect center-parting (my forehead is too big and my fringe too curtain-inclined to even attempt it). You have more guts than me, because I never would have even dared to attempt to approach the freaks on the patio at school when I was 17 and a bit years old. I used to walk around with my walkman in my pocket, listening to Blink 182 and being terribly anxious of everything. Our differences aren't that important, though - what I can relate to is your desire for the big wide world, a life outside of surburbia (your suburbs are a lot nicer than mine ever were, though) and school tests and hanging around with the same crowd every night after school, getting drunk and/or high and wishing you were somewhere else. I can relate to being at that awkward stage when you still want to make your parents proud and get residual guilt about not turning your homework in on time, but also want to be grown up and independent and achingly cool. I relate to your teen angst and wanting the one you can't have and your desperate need to have a life that is your own. Also, that one episode where you smoke a lot of weed and think your life is a dog's dream reminds me of this huge marijuana-induced existential crisis I had in amsterdam when I was nineteen. We were meant to be.

Andie Walsh, Pretty In Pink
Andie, Andie, Andie. I relate to you in a lot of ways - firstly, we're both ginger and have a penchant for crocheted things and rolling our eyes a lot. Secondly, your friendship with Ducky reminds me of the friendships I've had and lost, and the friendships I have now - hanging out in dive bars, outcasting ourselves at school, telling our life stories to each others parents. And thirdly, most importantly, you are not rich. You are not middle class, you are not wealthy, and you do not fit any of the stereotypes of the working class that the media likes to present to us (jolly, accepting of your lot, poor in wealth but rich in love, etc). You are poor, and you are angrily poor - you are embarrassed by it and frustrated by it and you're trying to be a kid and experience things like first love and making out and prom and all of the other things that people your age are doing, as well as convincing your dad to get a job and trying to stop the boy you like from driving you home because then he'll see that you're not wealthy like him. It's not embarrassing being lower class, and now that we're older we both know that, but when you're a teenager it seems like it's the only thing that matters. The thing that resonates most with me, that made me realise how alike we are, is the moment when you're looking around the expensive department store for a prom dress, and everything seems to scream to you that you don't belong here. The feelings of inadequacy and frustration that result from your attempt to temporarily escape your class could not ring truer.

Olivia Benson, Law and Order: SVU
Olivia Benson, my queen, the better half of my favourite duo, and a role model for every girl who wants equality. You are on the list mostly because you deserve it, and also because there are two girls who would probably hate me forever for not including you. As a woman, you have had to fight twice as hard to prove your worth and you make sure that because of this, no other woman is neglected or left behind.
My favourite Olivia moment is in the SVU episode '911', when the department receives a call from a young girl who appears to have been abducted but can't say where, exactly, she is located. The male detectives are about to give up on the case and put it down to being an elaborate prank, but Olivia keeps in touch with the girl, eventually finding and resuing her. What makes this episode more important to me is that it focuses on a Spanish girl who was not born in the USA. Olivia's dedication to finding this girl is in sharp contrast to the degree of focus given to missing white and middle class children in the real world - it's a sad fact that missing persons cases involving people of colour do not involve anywhere near as much publicity or media frenzy. The episode highlights this whilst at the same time also highlighting Olivia's dedication to equality for females everywhere.

Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer, Ghost World
Enid and Rebecca, Rebecca and Enid. I remember watching Ghost World for the first time when I was around 14, and it was like walking into a movie that was full of my friends. In my head, I was Enid and my sister was Rebecca, not just because they shared the same name but because she was cooler and more grown up than me - more ready to accept things head on, whereas I wanted to hide under the blanket of high school apathy and sarcasm forever.
What I like most about you, Enid and Rebecca, is that although you may have a lot of teenage angst and faux-hatred directed at the world immediately around you, you have love for each other. Ghost World taught me that it is cool to be yourself and roll your eyes at popular people who tell shitty jokes and want to keep in touch after graduation, but also that it is cool to love your friends and to have that one person who totally Gets You and will be your partner in crime. Enid, you hid your insecurities and uncertainty about the world behind cat-eye glasses and punk rock hair and cynical witticisms - I hid mine behind The Smiths and battered converse and going to gigs and an online blog about how much school sucked. What I can relate to most is that, under your cool exterior, you were scared of leaving a world where you were known and recognised, where you were sure of what your place was - high school outcast, hater of suburbia and lover of old jazz. You were scared of the real world and having to forge an identity in it and having to make your mark because without the context of small town life and high school, you weren't really sure who you were. Neither was I.

Betty Rizzo, Grease
This used to be a guilty confession, but now I've accepted it as fact and can pretty much deal with everyone knowing it - when I was growing up, Grease was my life. Between the ages of around 6-10, the majority of my memories are spliced with various scenes from the musical. One of my favourite things to do back then was to dress up in a cardigan courtesy of my grandmother, flip out my hair, and sing Hopelessly Devoted to You, even though I knew back then that Sandy was kind of a drip. My go-to character was Frenchy, because I wanted her pink hair and also for a pop star-slash-angel to descend from the sky and serenade me in a diner someday. However, I was always in awe of Rizzo - I didn't even attempt to mimic her outfits or mannerisms or songs, because I knew no one else could do them justice.
Rizzo is not the kind of girl I am but the kind of girl I want to be, or at least have as a friend. When I was younger, I wanted nothing more than to go to her sleepovers and get wine-drunk and climb out of the bedroom room at midnight to go and meet boys. I wanted someone who would guide the way for this kind of lifestyle for me but he or she never turned up, so I resorted to drinking whiskey alone in my room instead. I wanted to know someone as fearless and loyal as Rizzo, someone who did exactly what she liked and was ahead of her time and was unashamedly pro-sex, pro-alcohol, pro-doing whatever the fuck you want, at a time when women were not supposed to act like that. Amen.

Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons
Lisa Simpson stole my heart when I was around five years old and watching The Simpsons was something I did every weekend with my sister and my grandpa. It's fair to say I grew up with her - The Simpsons premiered the year I was born and 22 years later, I'm still watching it.
Lisa might be a four-fingered, 8 year old, yellow cartoon character but she's also many other things that I can relate to - a feminist, a vegetarian, an avid reader, fiercely dedicated to social issues and fighting injustice, as well as casually name-dropping Gore Vidal in conversation. As well as this, I can also relate to her attempting to find her place in her family of oddballs - she's at that time in her life where you start to realise that maybe your parents don't know everything, and that you potentially share fundamentally different views on certain topics, and it's awkward and sad and strange and you end up trying desperately to hold onto your own beliefs whilst fitting them around the beliefs of your family, kind of like a giant game of Tetris.
There are many articles floating around the internet praising Lisa Simpson for being the only truly feminist tv character - whilst I don't believe she's the only one, she is one of the best examples of one. She might conform to gender norms in that she plays with a malibu stacy doll, but she creates a modern apartment for the doll with a kitchen where she can print her "weekly feminist newspaper", which shows that she is more than aware of the stereotypes placed upon women in society and how dangerous they can be. She also enjoys The Itchy and Scratchy Show, a cartoon that depicts violence which is usually targeted towards a male audience. Despite being a 2D cartoon drawing she is not a 2D character - she often struggles with what she believes about feminism in theory and implementing that into the real (ok, real-cartoon) world, which makes her seem all the more human. Also, in one episode she takes on the malibu stacy company by creating her own talking doll, which includes the catchphrase "When I get married, I'm keeping my own name!". Pretty badass for an 8 year old.

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